Monday, 4 March 2013

For want of suitable shoes

Birdsong enveloped Tramp and I, as we made our way up the lane towards the woods on our walk this morning – and if it wasn’t for still having to wear wellingtons to navigate the mud to come, I would have said it brought a spring to my step. As we passed people’s front gardens, I noticed crocuses were open to the warm sunshine, bringing jazzy colour into view; so loudly bright when our eyes are used to grey, lightless days. Such a glorious, early Spring day cannot fail to lift the spirits.

I noticed one of the houses in the lane was up for sale as we went by. It has been empty for a while. Last winter, though, it was rented out to a couple in their fifties, Dawn and Bill. They were second-time-arounders, both with children grown-up and married, but who had only just met. They were with us only a few months. While I suspect they probably weren’t right for each other from the start, it seemed that living in our village did little to cement their union.

Village life can seem remote, even in the crowded South East, so it does take a little getting used to. This much was certainly evident when I spoke with Dawn in the Church Hall during the interval of the Christmas show that year.

          ‘It’s so dark everywhere,’ she complained. ‘How do you manage without streetlights?’

          ‘Yes, I suppose it is quite dark at times,’ I said. ‘I am just used to taking a torch with me wherever I go now. I don’t really think about it.’

          She went on, ‘But what about driving?! And you have to drive because there’s nothing here, is there? I can’t bear driving along these winding roads in the dark. I feel such a prisoner by the time it gets to around 4.30! Don’t you?’

‘Well, it doesn’t worry me so much probably, because I am used to the roads…’ I faltered, realising that she was completely missing the point and didn’t see the bigger picture of what village life had to offer. I tried a more positive tack: ‘You know, the stars are so bright here on a clear night. The sky is a real canopy of lights! You don’t see the stars nearly so well with street lights, of course.’

Dawn moved away, no doubt hoping for a more sympathetic ear. Meanwhile, I overheard Bill enthusing to my neighbour, Lawrence, about the barn owls he had seen. I often see them myself, fluttering over the fields like airborne white handkerchiefs, before they swoop down to collect their prey. Bill had started taking evening strolls to watch them. Dawn, it appeared, was not interested in accompanying him, for want of suitable shoes. They broke up soon after -- Dawn and Bill that is; not the shoes.

Today, I continued deeper into the woods and passed where the wild daffodils grow. No sign of them yet, but I would be ready to find them when the time came, as well as keeping a sharp look out for the wild orchids that grow nearby. As we circled back past the stream, while Tramp paddled I checked the sunny bank I knew would soon display primroses and violets better than any stand at Chelsea. The primroses were in position; violets are yet to make their appearance. Still, it is only March!

It was in these woods that I saw my first badgers – alive, that is, for sadly, there is no shortage of badgers killed on the roads around our village. Actually, I saw not one, but a family troop of badgers that day, trotting along a ridge in single file through the shimmering sunlight that filtered through the trees. Tramp, like me, stopped in his tracks and watched them, filled with wonder at the sight. They have spoiled me now, though, for seeing deer skipping lightly away from our path ahead, or foxes whose eyes shine like jewels in the undergrowth, especially at dusk.

          There are woodsmen at work in several areas of woodland around the village, and it is clearly evident where they have been: the ground in the woods looks vulnerably bald where trees have been thinned, and brushwood heaps line the edges of the footpaths. But I console myself it is for the best, and it won’t be long before the undergrowth is rejuvenated.

Soon after passing their makeshift day camp and charcoal burner, I spotted James, who lives in an old horsebox parked in the grounds of a house on the outskirts of the village, where something of a ‘commune’ has collected. He usually works with the woodsmen. Now he was kneeling, hunched over a log in a boggy patch alongside the path.

          ‘Hello James,’ I said. ‘What are you doing?’

          He straightened on hearing my voice and tossed his long dreadlocks back over his shoulders. I could then see that he held a camera in his hands, with a smart, technical-looking lens attached.

          ‘I’m photographing this,’ he said, and pointed at the log. ‘It’s an early, Spring fungi. Such a wonderful shape and texture.’
I knelt and looked at the perfectly-formed, soft fungi, pristine against the dark, rotting wood. But what I found more astonishing was that someone who works so closely with trees in the woods could be so captivated by such detail. It really was like looking at the world through a different lens - compared to Dawn’s; and not just a matter of appropriate footwear.


  1. The development I live in is just remote enough that we have several resident families of ducks that wander all around and a turtle that once stopped traffic while it crossed the street. It's not the same as living in the city and I like it that way.

    1. Thanks for the comment... sounds like a great place to live, too.